Why America is better with public broadcasting

Why America is better with public broadcasting
Public television provides educational programs like Sesame Street, essential for every child in the US. (Photo: Walter Lim/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

It was 46 years ago this month. In a hearing room at the US Capitol, Fred Rogers appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications. The subcommittee, chaired by Senator John Pastore of Rhode Island, was examining the funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the organization that provides federal grants to public television and radio stations across the country.

It was established nearly two years earlier, in 1967, by President Lyndon Johnson. His successor, Richard Nixon, wanted to cut the funding to CPB from $20 million to $10 million.

At the core of Rogers’ 6 minute testimony was the value of education and the role television, itself a new media model at the time, can have, especially on children.

When he began to speak, he explained that his first children’s TV program 15 years ago had a budget of $30. In the years since, the budget for the program that would become Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, grew to $6,000, with help of investments from other organizations and the stations across the US that aired it.

“$6,000 pays for less than two minutes of cartoons,” Rogers said. “Two minutes of animated, what I sometimes say, bombardment. I’m very much concerned, as I know you are, about what’s being delivered to our children in this country. And I’ve worked in the field of child development for six years now, trying to understand the inner needs of children. We deal with such things as—as the inner drama of childhood. We don't have to bop somebody over the head to ... make drama on the screen.”

By the time it was over, Pastore, moved by the testimony, admitted to having goosebumps. When all was said and done, the CPB would get the full $20 million.

46 years after that testimony, the ideas of the man who we’ve come to know as our neighbor, ring true, in an age where the culture of television has changed, and access to information from the internet and social media quickly becomes the norm, raising questions to the role public broadcasters have, and if indeed, federal funding should support it.

The individual investment in public broadcasting funding is $1.35, not per day, not per month, but per year. It may not sound like much, but this $1.35 goes a long way to making a big difference.

This money helps children develop and grow before school and during school, from basic counting and math, to arithmetic and expression. It also helps adults continue to be life-long learners, keeping them informed of current events locally, nationally and internationally, and allow for a unique form of entertainment that showcases new ideas and gives a new look on society.

This money promotes the value of education in American life, and in a democracy such as ours, education is something that can’t have a price tag put on it. We can be better people and be a better society, if we remain a well-educated and well-informed society. The public television and radio stations of this country help us do just that, wherever you may be.

What Rogers said on that day in May is personally significant. I grew up visiting his Neighborhood through my local PBS station, and the month of May was when I obtained by Bachelor’s Degree.

Yet, the other thing that Rogers emphasized later in life is to never stop learning, and even though my formal education is complete for now, I’ll never stop learning, and public broadcasting gives me a path for life-long learning.

The relationship that every American has with public TV and radio is sacrosanct. We’ll be better people for it, should Congress keep the funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting going, and make education through these stations, no matter what medium, protected, not only for this generation, but the next.

I hope you will join me in that task.

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